Practicing A Conservation Lifestyle
July 31, 2021
Our remarkably extended rainy season has given us a taste of a more tropical climate this summer. These rare episodes ease the pressures on the aquifers, surface water levels and irrigation needs. A lovely consequence is having it so green this deep into the summer experience. The grazing acres and hay surplus are impressive. The demands on yards and grounds have kept so many busy! What a summer as we move out of the deep freeze recovery and the reopening of public space from the extended pandemic of covid-19. Toddlers and summer adventurers along with fawns, kid goats and calves are exhibiting such a jolly leaping and happy time!
Our meteorologists seem almost bewildered that their seasonal attention to aquifer levels and other measures allow for other facets to their reporting. Perhaps it is just such a time that lends itself to pondering the deeper questions about water quality and availability for our local and Hill Country region.
A piece of sacred land rights in Texas dedicates water and other “gifts” subsurface to the deed holder of the land at the surface. In recent decades, we have learned enough to note that just as much as surface waters are a common precious gift, so, too, we share in common the rich water sources and gifts beneath us. Our meteorologists remind us of this as they report measures from the “test wells” daily. The head spinning rapid growth and developments across the region mount pressure on our supply of good waters. It is past time to assess and review our management measures. Indeed, more and more become dependent on our common water sources. The circumstance suggests and cries out for some updated understandings of how we protect and oversee these life resources.
The tired and outmoded “stages of conservation” measures we live through in our very dry periods that both lengthen and become more extreme,
require attention! Is it not more appropriate to develop policies and lifestyles built around conserving and protecting our water resources year-round? The demands would not be interfering or disruptive.
Can those with oversight of our subsurface source aquifers be given sufficient authority to develop stringent practices that reduce frivolous and excessive drawdowns of our water supplies? Can we promote even more conservation measures that celebrate in landscaping drought resistant practices and xeriscapes where appropriate? Featuring native items for residential and commercial gardens to enhance open space seems so smart. Developing curricula for our schools that teach the most basic careful use of water and practices that avoid needless waste of good water helps shape the future practices for those who follow us. Likewise, encouragement for reuse of waste waters and runoffs can enhance the efforts and contribute to the conservation mindset. Expanding the models for rainwater retention and use certainly fits this lifestyle as well.
One cannot move about in our community and surrounding area without noting some of the signs of positive steps toward improved water practices. A visitor asked me about the big storage capacities now visible by NBU throughout our area. Likewise, some of the measures at rainfall capture evidence good planning and a responsible look toward the future. The first conversations about a self-sustaining, self sufficient water use and reuse building model could help demonstrate a way into a responsible future. All such measures precluding a necessitated move toward desalination processes are worthy of considerable effort and resource. The alternatives are far more costly and challenging.
Let’s keep the conversation going. Explore discussions at www.comalconservation.org! You’ll be glad you did!
Imagine a Day Without Water
Understand Water Security
Finding Solutions for Accessible, Adequate, and Acceptable Water for the Future
By Kathy Wythe
The capacity of a population to safeguard sustainable access to adequate quantities of acceptable quality water for sustaining livelihoods, human well-being and socio-economic development; for ensuring protection against water-borne pollution and water-related disasters; and for preserving ecosystems in a climate of peace and political stability.
— Working definition of water security, United Nations—Water, 2013
— Working definition of water security, United Nations—Water, 2013
The term “water security” means different things to different people.
For some, water security means simply having enough clean water to drink when they turn on the faucet; for others, water security involves having existing infrastructure to deliver the water, and still for others, it means guarding a nation’s water resources against bioterrorism.
Hurricane Harvey and the resulting flooding exposed some of these different meanings and levels of water security. It also illustrated the importance of water security to the well-being of communities, states and the nation.
“That level links with sanitation issues and that links with clean water access and the complex, social and political reasons that either contribute to water security or contribute to water insecurity,” said Jepson, who has been studying household water security along the Texas–Mexico border as well as in South and Central America.
Dr. Mary Hilderbrand, senior lecturer in The Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M, said in developing countries, access to water is a huge issue, not just in rural areas but in urban communities as well.
She said some cities in developing countries are experiencing rapid growth because of rural to urban migration. The countries’ urban populations are increasing, and these cities are trying to find ways to meet their water needs.
Examining water security from an institutional scale involves understanding the laws and institutional actors and organizations that are in charge of water allocation, management and protection — and whether they ultimately support or undermine water security.
“We know some geographic areas are experiencing water shortages, which means some people are going to get their water and some people aren’t,” said Dr. Kent Portney, director of the Institute for Science, Technology and Public Policy at the Bush School. “Every day that water becomes scarcer, somebody is going to be increasingly deprived. That then turns the attention to issues of who is deciding who gets what water. And that is water governance.”
“The link between water and security is undeniable. Where freshwater is plentiful, accessible and well-managed, economies can grow, communities can thrive and nature can flourish.”
Portney and Hilderbrand, along with Gabriel Eckstein, professor in the Texas A&M School of Law, and Dr. Rosario Sanchez, research scientist with the Texas Water Resources Institute, are working on understanding the governance of shared water across the United States-Mexico border.
Another perspective of water security, Jepson said, includes studying how water security is challenged by global environmental changes, such as climate change, and how existing water systems will need to adapt to these changes.
“For example, coastal areas have the largest concentrations of human settlements, but yet they are facing increased sea water temperatures, sea-level rise and salt water intrusion that threaten coastal aquifers,” she said.
IS WATER INSECURITY AN ISSUE IN THE UNITED STATES?
While some might believe that having sufficient and clean water is limited to developing countries, that is simply not the case, according to the researchers.
“Living in College Station or the Dallas-Fort Worth area, we are confident that when we turn on the tap, water will come out and be clean,” Eckstein said, “but there are a couple of million people in the United States who don’t have that security. They live along the Mexican border, in the Appalachians and the Ozarks, as well as other areas of the country.”
Jepson agreed that these challenges are not restricted to the poorest nations.
“Although access to piped and improved water sources has increased over the past decades, domestic water security remains a difficult goal to achieve in economically distressed communities in both developed countries and across the developing world,” she said.
“It is quite clear that while the majority of Americans do have water security, it is not as secure as we maybe thought in the past,” Jepson said, citing the example of lead-contaminated drinking water in Flint, Michigan, caused by inadequate water treatment and aging infrastructure. Other U.S. cities, including Detroit, Chicago and Washington, D.C., are facing some of the same issues, she said.
“There is this idea or myth of universal provision of water in the United States…and when something like Flint happens we are surprised about it,” she said. “I was not surprised about it.”
In Texas, Corpus Christi had four water contamination-related alerts in 2015 and 2016, according to news reports. Many other Texas cities have also issued boil water notices because of breaks in their water infrastructure or problems with water treatment.
“I don’t want to overplay the notion of water insecurity, but I think it is a lot more significant than we have been talking about in the past in the United States,” Jepson said. “We just have not been asking the right questions. We are assuming that everything is taken care of, and we haven’t thought critically about what questions to ask.”
Some of the most water insecure and vulnerable areas in the country are along the Texas-Mexico border. Jepson said certain populations, particularly low-income Mexican-American communities, have been historically and politically marginalized from water systems in the Rio Grande Valley.
Although economic factors such as poverty and urban development affect this lack of water security, she said the complex and highly fragmented water governance in Texas also contributes to it.
“The districts that organize the allocation and monitoring of water provision are highly fragmented,” Jepson said.
The Inuits in Alaska are another example of U.S. populations struggling with water insecurity. Not only are they poor and live in rural areas, but their water resources are changing because of climate change, she said.
Even geographical areas not normally considered insecure can become susceptible.
The droughts that California experienced in 2016 and Texas in 2011 illustrate how vulnerable some areas are to becoming water insecure, Eckstein said.
With Texas’ population expected to double by 2070 but its water supplies predicted to decrease, he said, the state could find itself experiencing water insecurity.
For Eckstein, he sees Texas A&M’s emerging focus and research on water security as beneficial.
Although water quantity and water quality research have traditionally been divided into sectors, such as agriculture use, industrial use and municipal use, tackling water research in terms of water security allows scientists and others to look at water from another perspective, he said.
“The security approach gives us a different view of how to look at water as a resource,” Eckstein said. “I don’t know if it will get us to any different outcomes or conclusions, but we have to go down this road to see because the approaches we currently take don’t always give us definitive answers and quite often don’t give us helpful answers.”
By Spencer Grubbs, Shannon Halbrook, Jessica Donald and, Bruce Wright
Published April 2019
Published April 2019
AN EVER-INCREASING DEMAND
One challenge springing from Texas’ rapid growth is the increasing pressure it puts on our natural resources — especially water. Texas has a huge number of municipal, agricultural, and industrial users all relying on limited sources of surface and groundwater.
As our population and economy continue to grow, the efficient management of this precious resource is becoming increasingly critical.
SUPPLY AND DEMAND
Water planners distinguish between water availability and water supply. Water availability refers to the amount of water in a source that can be withdrawn each year in a serious drought. Supply, on the other hand, represents the amount of that available water currently usable with existing infrastructure and under existing law and water agreements.
The Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) projects that in 2020, our state will have about 24.7 million acre-feet of available water, about half of it groundwater and half surface water. (An acre-foot is the volume of a sheet of water with an area of one acre and a depth of one foot.) Texas’ water supply amounts to about 14.7 million acre-feet, 7.2 million acre-feet in the ground and 7.5 million acre-feet representing surface water.
In 2016, Texas came close to using its entire annual water supply.
In 2016, Texas came close to using its entire annual supply, drawing about 14.2 million acre-feet. About 56 percent of that came from
groundwater sources, while 42 percent was surface water; 2 percent came from the reuse of treated wastewater. Agricultural users and municipal water systems accounted for nearly 86 percent of the amount used in 2016 (55 percent and 31 percent, respectively). Other significant water users include manufacturers, power stations and oil and gas producers.
Nearly half of all Texas surface water used in 2016 went to municipal water systems (Exhibit 1). Municipal use fluctuates depending on weather conditions; as measured in gallons per capita daily (GPCD), Texas municipal use peaked at 173 GPCD during the 2011 drought, falling to 141 GPCD in 2016. Agriculture was the second-biggest user of surface water, claiming 33 percent of the total (30 percent for irrigation and 3 percent for watering livestock).
The vast majority of groundwater, by contrast, is used for agricultural irrigation (Exhibit 2). Municipal water systems were a distant second, with 18 percent of total use.
Texas’ groundwater is stored just where the name implies. Its surface water, however, resides in 188 major reservoirs, 15 major river basins and eight coastal basins. Basins are regions drained by a river and its tributaries; reservoirs are large artificial lakes. (Texas has only one natural lake, Caddo Lake on the Texas-Louisiana border.)
There are two types of reservoirs: on-channel, created by damming rivers and restricting the downstream flow of water, as with the Highland Lakes chain in Central Texas; and off-channel, created by piping water from a river to an artificially constructed lake separate from the river itself, such as Wharton County’s new Arbuckle Reservoir.
According to TWDB, more than half of the state’s available surface water, or 8.9 million acre-feet, comes from reservoirs. As of Jan. 31, 2019, the reservoirs collectively were 89.6 percent full; in the past year, their lowest point was 76.1 percent.
Because some parts of Texas typically are much drier than others, a common strategy to meet water needs is to transfer water between different river basins to supplement existing supplies. This practice, called interbasin transfer, involves moving water via canals or pipes. Some areas in Texas receive the majority of their water from interbasin transfers. As of 2014 (most recent available data), the state had more than 150 active interbasin transfer arrangements.
Texas was once described, in a quote generally attributed to an unnamed meteorologist in the 1920s, as “a land of perennial drought broken by the occasional devastating flood.” Texas is rarely entirely free of drought, particularly in its arid western counties. The “drought of record,” which TWDB uses as a benchmark for future disaster planning, lasted from 1950 to 1957. The years of 2010 through 2014 represented the second-worst Texas drought on record, with 2011 being the single driest year in the state’s recorded history. Dry conditions in that year alone cost the state’s agricultural sector an estimated $7.6 billion, with significant effects in other industries ranging from timber to tourism.
Droughts represent continuing challenges to a rapidly growing state with an economy dependent on reliable fresh water supplies for residential, commercial, and agricultural use. But even in the absence of drought, water supply and usage must be planned for and closely monitored.
TWDB expects Texas’ water supply and demand to diverge steadily over the next 50 years, resulting in a supply shortfall
2011 was the single driest year in the state’s recorded history.
of about 8.9 million acre-feet per year by 2070. That’s enough to cover all of Dallas County with 15 feet of water.
In the absence of new sources or additional conservation, the agency expects the state’s water supply to fall by 11 percent from 2020 to 2070, from 15.2 million to 13.6 million acre-feet per year. The projected decline is due largely to an expected reduction in supplies from the Ogallala Aquifer, a huge source of agricultural water, and mandatory pumping restrictions on the Gulf Coast Aquifer, put into place to prevent further subsidence, the gradual sinking of surrounding land.
But population growth is likely to put the most urgent pressure on our water supplies. TWDB expects Texas’ population to rise to 51 million by 2070, a 73 percent increase from its projection for 2020. This growth will be heavily concentrated in the state’s urban centers, especially Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston, where municipal water use is expected to soar.
Meeting these challenges will require strategies to improve supply and reduce demand: conservation, the creation of new reservoirs, desalination and more.
Texas’ rapid growth is escalating the need for communities and the state as a whole to protect current water supplies and make detailed plans for future usage.
In Texas, water supply planning has been a policy priority since the drought years of the 1950s. In 1957, the Legislature established TWDB as a state agency to provide financial and logistical assistance to local and regional water entities for long-term projects.
TWDB’s top priority, the State Water Plan, is Texas’ most comprehensive water supply planning tool. The agency’s first formal SWP of 1961 focused on quantifying the state’s surface and groundwater supplies and projecting future
Texas’ rapid growth is escalating the need to protect current water supplies and make detailed plans for future usage.
water needs through 1980. In 1997 — after another severe drought — the state water planning process was changed in several important ways. In that year, the Legislature required TWDB to establish regional water planning groups and to develop a comprehensive SWP every five years, based on the regional plans.
TWDB established 16 regional water planning groups (Exhibit 4), each charged with planning for drought conditions, evaluating future water demands and developing water management plans for its area. In 2002, TWDB developed the first SWP based on this “bottom-up” regional planning process.
The 2017 SWP was the 10th and most recent plan, and the fourth based on the regional planning process. It lists about 5,500 recommended water management strategies to meet the needs of particular user groups (such as agriculture, cities and manufacturers) in each planning area during the next 50 years. The strategies fall into two broad categories: demand management — strategies reducing the requirement for additional water — and water supply — strategies to increase water supplies.
In the 2017 SWP, nearly 70 percent of the water management strategies fall under water supply, with the remainder representing demand management (Exhibit 5).
In the 2017 SWP, nearly 70 percent of the water management strategies fall under water supply, with the remainder representing demand management (Exhibit 5).
Water supply strategies generally fall into one of four subcategories in the 2017 SWP: surface water strategies (such as the construction of new reservoirs), reuse strategies (wastewater treatment and reuse), groundwater strategies (the construction of new water wells and the desalination of brackish groundwater) and seawater desalination.
Examples of demand management strategies in the 2017 SWP include irrigation conservation (through technological advances such as low-energy precision application systems that use less water and reduce evaporation) and municipal conservation (including measures such as mandatory low-flow plumbing and landscape watering restrictions).
In addition to water management strategies, the 2017 SWP lists about 2,500 water management strategy projects (WMSPs) involving new infrastructure. These include new major reservoirs and groundwater wells. The cost of all WMSPs across the 16 regional planning groups is estimated at $63 billion over 50 years.
THE COST OF INACTION
That’s an enormous amount of money — about two-thirds of the state’s entire net general revenue for fiscal 2018. Yet the cost of doing nothing could be even higher.
An adequate water supply is so essential that the impact of shortages would echo throughout the state economy, affecting everything from power generation to the cattle business. TWDB estimates that a future “drought of record” event could reduce the income of Texas businesses
The impact of water shortages would echo throughout the state economy, affecting everything from power generation to the cattle business.
and individuals by $73 billion in 2020 and more than $151 billion in 2070, with accumulating impacts for each year of drought. It also could reduce Texas employment by 424,000 in 2020 and nearly 1.3 million in 2070.
Texas’ water planning process, of course, is intended to ensure that we avoid the harshest consequences of the next — and inevitable — major drought.
For more detail on Texas water planning, see the Texas Water Development Board’s most recent State Water Plan.
Bob and Leslie Scouras, who have a well on their property in Lee County, are among dozens of landowners who lowered their water pumps when groundwater levels dropped after a project began last year to export groundwater from the rural Central Texas area to San Antonio. Credit: Sophie Park/The Texas Tribune
San Antonio Built a Pipeline to Rural Central Texas to Increase its Water Supply. Now Local Landowners Say Their Wells are Running Dry.
By Erin Douglas
August 2, 2021
August 2, 2021
A pipeline helped secure water for San Antonio for decades to come — at a potentially high cost to some rural residents who are losing groundwater to the big city. Is it a preview for the rest of the state as climate change brings more water scarcity and cities keep sprawling?
LEXINGTON — When the water finally arrived, San Antonio’s leadership could relax. The roughly 150-mile long water pipeline to the northeast guaranteed the city’s economic future and freed residents from the stress of droughts.
“We have water security for decades to come,” said Robert Puente, president and CEO of the San Antonio Water System. Puente called the project, which came online in April 2020, the "biggest achievement in our lifetimes" to secure water for the city. The pipeline helped conserve the sensitive Edwards Aquifer, upon which San Antonio has historically depended for water.
But less than a year after the pipeline began to suck water from a different aquifer in Central Texas for delivery to 1.8 million people, some residents in that rural area turned on their taps only to be greeted by air.
“All so that the people in the city of San Antonio can water their lawns,” said Bob Scouras, 72, a landowner in Lee County.
Out on County Road 411, Scouras and his wife, Leslie, 63, raised and later sold their horses, raised kids and sent them to college, built dozens of houses for birds, and are almost done building one for their family. They commuted to Austin until retirement, as did many of their neighbors. The community is mostly retirees who bought the lush farmland decades ago for cheap.
They live near the wells that pump water to San Antonio, and their own well started sputtering less than a year after the Vista Ridge project went online.
The Scourases live in a small farmhouse on their 20 acres of property. It was supposed to be temporary while they built their permanent home, but that took a little longer than expected (more than a decade). The house is almost done, and they plan to move in within a few weeks. But now, they’re not sure if they’ll have enough water to live on the land much longer.
“They didn’t care that I would be out of drinking water — they would have green lawns,” he said.
The situation underscores how important groundwater has become to Texas’ water future as climate change brings more frequent droughts along with longer and hotter summers, at the same time as the state’s population approaches 35 million. During the state’s most recent severe drought in 2011, groundwater supplied almost two-thirds of the increase in water consumption.
“The growth that we’ve had [in Texas], water ultimately underpins at a very fundamental level,” said Gabriel Collins, a Baker Botts fellow in energy and environmental regulatory affairs at Rice University.
A severe drought in the Western U.S. this year has forced some areas to halt development due to water constraints, while other regions are battling widespread wildfires. A 2019 study authored by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientists found that droughts are part of the spiral of climate change: High temperatures from global warming combined with low soil moisture to produce stronger heat waves.
But some rural landowners see the water export project in Central Texas not as a prudent response to climate change but as the perfect example of how unchecked urban expansion is encroaching on their lives. Pitting cities against rural dwellers and economic growth against environmental conservation, the Vista Ridge project, some experts said, is a preview of the water wars that will grow worse across Texas in coming decades. The fastest-growing use of water in Texas is no longer agriculture, but municipal, according to the state’s water plan, and municipal needs are projected to outstrip irrigation by 2060.
The burgeoning development of groundwater is also happening in a state with a patchwork of water laws that essentially allows anyone who owns or leases enough land — and the water below — to pump water, regardless of whether it affects neighboring properties for miles around. And because political boundaries don’t follow the natural underground water flows and formations, local regulations on pumping don’t necessarily protect everyone whose water wells are affected.
Since April 2020, when the project came online, groundwater levels in the area near Vista Ridge wells have plummeted, according to well data from the Post Oak Savannah Groundwater Conservation District. Texas is the third-largest groundwater pumper in the nation, according to U.S. Geological Survey data.
The Vista Ridge project is permitted to pump nearly 56,000 acre-feet of water per year from the Carrizo and Simsboro formations. As the groundwater level retreats in their wells, residents have been forced to extend their pumps farther underground and upgrade to stronger equipment that can bring the water up from new depths. The work can cost hundreds to thousands of dollars, and there’s no guarantee they won’t have to drill deeper in the future.
Bob and Leslie Scouras spent about $5,000 on such work. Many of their older neighbors in the rural area were forced to do the same.
“It’s all about the money, and it’s all about the growth,” Bob Scouras said. “It’s not about anyone being thirsty.”
Leaders in San Antonio disagree. “The economic generators of the U.S. are cities,” said Richard Perez, CEO of the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce. “Rural areas are still important,” he said, “but cities are what is driving the state and the country.”
WATER LEVELS SINK
Private water marketers worked over the course of a decade to put together thousands of water leases from rural landowners in the rolling and lush cattle ranch land of Burleson and Milam counties, about 50 miles east of Austin, to make the Vista Ridge project possible. The 18 water wells tap the Carrizo and Simsboro formations of the Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer, which underlies a long, narrow swath of the state from its southwest border to East Texas. Now operated by EPCOR, a Canadian utility company, the wells connect to the pipeline that runs southwest to a water station in Bexar County.
In the Post Oak Savannah Groundwater Conservation District, which includes Milam and Burleson counties, more than a third of its water pumped from the Carrizo and almost three fourths of its pumped water from the Simsboro is flowing to San Antonio, according to data from the district. There, the imported water now fills about 20% of the city’s daily water needs.
Beginning last fall, dozens of landowners in Lee, Burleson and Milam counties — including some beyond the boundaries of the local groundwater district — began to notice problems with their wells as water dropped below the level their pumps could reach.
George Rice, a groundwater hydrologist in San Antonio who represented landowners opposed to the project, said he wasn’t surprised that residents now need to lower their pumps. The model that Rice created for his analysis in 2015 and 2016 predicted that, in one year of pumping, the Carrizo formation’s water level would drop by 54 feet within 5 miles of the Vista Ridge pumping, and 19 feet within a 10-mile radius in what is called the “confined zone” of the aquifer — pressurized sections of the aquifer that are sandwiched between impermeable rock or sand above and below. Such drops can put water levels out of reach of local residents’ pumps.
“If they’re lucky, they’ll just have to lower their pump, or if they’re unlucky, they’ll have to deepen their wells, which is more expensive,” Rice said.
Dan Martin, a retired cattle rancher who lives near the Vista Ridge wells in Burleson County, said his water stopped flowing while he was in the shower, “all soaped up.” He spent about $10,000 to fix the problem with his well, which he uses both for his home and 35 cattle — he had to pay for a new pump and piping to take the well 380 feet deeper.
Data from the Post Oak Savannah Groundwater Conservation District, where the Vista Ridge wells are located, confirms anecdotal reports from residents. The district regulates use of groundwater in Milam and Burleson counties, but its decisions can also affect the aquifer’s conditions beyond the political borders. The district’s data shows water levels in several wells nearby have dropped dramatically. At a water well on County Road 324, about five miles from a cluster of Vista Ridge wells, water levels have sunk almost 100 feet since April 2020. That’s more than the well’s water had dropped in the 30 years since the district’s records began.
The change also cannot be explained by a drier year than normal. During the 2011 drought, which was much more severe than the conditions in 2020, the well near Caldwell lost only about 8 feet of water.
But the dropping water levels are allowed — even expected — under the permits that Vista Ridge received from the Post Oak Savannah Groundwater Conservation District, as long as the project doesn’t exceed its permitted pumping limit.
“How we developed the wellfield ensured that there was sufficient spacing and pumpage rates so that any potential decline over time would be well within the limits [set by the groundwater district],” said Mark Janay, operating partner at Ridgewood Infrastructure, a New York infrastructure company that is the majority owner of the Vista Ridge project.
When asked how the company has mitigated impacts to local landowners’ wells, Janay said the company draws primarily from the deeper Simsboro formation, which landowners don’t rely on, and that the pumping from the Carrizo is limited by the local groundwater district.
Hydrologists for Ridgewood and the groundwater district said the impacts to the water levels should taper off after a big initial drop. That’s what the groundwater districts are now monitoring for.
In Lee County, Nancy and Ronnie McKee spent $720 to lower their well pump in November. Well levels had plunged by 43 feet in seven months, more than in the previous 30 years. Nancy McKee said she attended public meetings in the years before the project began operating and was told she had nothing to worry about.
“They said, ‘It’s not going to affect you,’” she said. “The proof is in the pudding.”
McKee said she and her neighbors feel forgotten by local officials and ignored in the process of endless urbanization.
“We’re just regular people,” she said. “For this to come up and be such an expense for us is so disheartening.”
Water levels have plunged.
Wells in the Carrizo formation are losing water, according to groundwater district data. This chart shows an example of one well on the west side of Burleson County that’s located a few miles from Vista Ridge’s pumping station.
SAN ANTONIO THIRSTS FOR SECURITY
San Antonio began to seriously consider diversifying its water supply in the 1990s when environmentalists won a lawsuit to protect the Edwards Aquifer, which the city had relied upon for decades. Overuse was causing damage to endangered species, and as a result, the city’s allowed extractions from the aquifer were cut by 44% during severe droughts. San Antonio began to look elsewhere for water — a politically arduous task because importing water would be extremely expensive and potentially damaging to the environment.
But in 2011, the political climate shifted: One of the worst droughts in Texas history convinced San Antonio’s City Council to approve a water rate hike for water development. Suddenly, local politicians were in favor of building a desalination plant, practicing more aggressive water conservation and building the $3 billion Vista Ridge pipeline. The business community went on a “quest” to diversify water sources because fears of water shortages were hurting economic development, said Perez, the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce CEO.
“The 2011 drought was happening right during the time that we were starting to develop [Vista Ridge],” said Puente, of the San Antonio Water System. “The public’s perception of the urgency and need for the project was heightened.”
Leslie Scouras, left, and her husband, Bob Scouras, spent $5,000 to update the water pump on their property in Lee County. After groundwater levels retreated in area wells last year, some residents extended their pumps farther underground and upgraded to stronger equipment that can bring the water up from new depths — work that can cost hundreds to thousands of dollars. Credit: Sophie Park/The Texas Tribune
Most major cities in Texas rely on surface water, like reservoirs, for municipal needs. But those sources are particularly vulnerable to drought because the water evaporates. The 2011 drought caused billions in economic damages to the agricultural industry, strained the state’s electric grid and forced nearly 1,000 public water systems to restrict water usage; 23 water systems were within 180 days of completely running out of water.
In San Antonio, the city relied on water it had previously pumped from the Edwards Aquifer and stored underground.
Because of such possibilities in the future, San Antonio’s strategy to diversify its water supply with a desalination plant, conservation and the Vista Ridge groundwater pipeline could be considered a model for other cities. The alternative — building a new reservoir — requires buying the land and relocating people, farms or businesses on it, then damming a river or creek and flooding the land.
Janay, of Ridgewood Infrastructure, thinks more groundwater projects will likely be necessary across Texas. It’s a matter of managing the impacts, which he thinks the Vista Ridge project has done by adhering to the groundwater district’s limits.
“We’re going to have to be more thoughtful in developing future supplies, and we may have to go further and transport water further,” Janay said. Continued groundwater development can occur, he said, “in a thoughtful manner that is supported by science.”
“We need to find that balance,” he said.
TEXAS' "PATCHWORK" OF GROUNDWATER REGULATION
Despite the growing importance of groundwater, Texas is the only state in the West — where water is particularly scarce — that still uses the “rule of capture,” which essentially allows landowners to pump as much groundwater from their property as they want without facing liability from surrounding landowners.
But Collins, of Rice University, said a patchwork of local rules from the 98 groundwater conservation districts in the state means the rule is applied in many ways, including where different districts have different rules for the same large aquifer. More than 20 districts regulate water use for the massive Carrizo-Wilcox, which spans from East to Southwest Texas.
The Vista Ridge Project took advantage of those differences. San Antonio water officials said the Post Oak Savannah Groundwater Conservation District, where the project is now located, allowed landowners to lease their water for several decades at a time, while many other districts limit leases to a few years.
“[The district] has a philosophy that a lot of other groundwater districts do not, and that is that this is a private water resource: If you want to sell it, sell it,” said Puente of the San Antonio Water System. “They regulate it, but they still allow for those transactions to happen.
“So this was the best water for us for two reasons: Geographically, the aquifer is very prolific, and politically, just as important, those rules in that county allowed for the exportation of water all the way to San Antonio.”
Groundwater districts are charged by the Legislature to create a goal for how much water should be conserved in the coming decades, a target called “desired future conditions.” The districts use that goal to set limits on pumping. But those limits vary widely from district to district, and as long as a company pumps less than the permitted amount, the groundwater district isn’t obligated to intervene when a neighbor’s supply is affected.
The Post Oak Savannah Groundwater Conservation District responded to dwindling groundwater levels with a well mitigation program that compensates landowners for the cost to lower their pumps or even drill a new well. Groundwater officials said the limits they’ve set in the district are sufficient to conserve water in the region, and the landowners who agreed to lease water for the project have a right to do what they want with the water below their land.
“We’ve been diligent about being conservation-minded, but also respectful of property rights,” said Gary Westbrook, general manager of the groundwater district. “People have the right to sell their water if that’s what they want to do.”
The numbers show how deep the water was from the surface. Higher numbers equal lower water levels. Measurements taken in the winter from 2001 and 2020 showed water levels were stable, only dropping from roughly 120 to 190 feet over two decades. But that changed when Vista Ridge started pumping in April 2020. A measurement taken in March 2021 showed water levels had fallen to 280 feet below the surface, an almost 50% drop in just one year. The bottom of the well is 840 feet below the surface.
Outside that district, though, landowners who didn’t lease their water — or even know that their neighbors had done so — have seen water levels drop. The Scouras and McKee families both live in Lee County, in the Lost Pines Groundwater Conservation District.
The Lost Pines district didn’t grant any permit to Vista Ridge, nor did it collect any fees from the project, but it will soon have to pay to fix wells. In response to complaints from landowners, James Totten, general manager of the Lost Pines district, said the district recently created a program to reimburse landowners for the cost to lower or upgrade their pumps, and it is considering a moratorium on pumping water in areas where the water levels have dramatically dropped in the last year.
“We may not have the ability to control Vista Ridge, but we can say we won’t allow any project that would make the situation in that area worse on our side of the border,” Totten said.
But those efforts won’t stop the longer-term impact of exporting water south to San Antonio, residents say. Bob Scouras is worried that if the water levels don’t stabilize, his neighborhood will soon have to ask the nearest water utility to build lines out to the property.
“The big question is: Where the hell are we going to get our water in five years?” he said. “San Antonio is not real worried about us out here. We’re just a bunch of hayseeds [to them].”
Across the Hill Country, residents and visitors depend on the groundwater stored in the Trinity Aquifers as water supply and to provide baseflow through springs that keep iconic creeks and rivers flowing. Residents have a voice through the regional planning process to discuss and set goals to guide the future we desire for the Trinity Aquifers.
Cypress Creek in downtown Wimberley
Desired Future Conditions, or DFCs, are a tool to coordinate groundwater management across groundwater conservation districts. The DFC is a regional planning tool that does not supersede or take the place of local groundwater management put in place by local elected officials through groundwater conservation districts. The individual Districts tailor their Rules and Bylaws to effectively manage and protect the local groundwater resources, and currently don’t have to rely on the DFC for more than a planning tool.
Rules and Bylaws to effectively manage and protect the local groundwater resources, and currently don’t have to rely on the DFC for more than a planning tool.
TWDB Desired Future Conditions Process ChartInstead, the DFC is an agreed upon goal accepted by the groundwater conservation districts within a groundwater management area (GMA) and, it is an important part of a regional groundwater planning process that helps inform the State’s Water Plan. In the Hill Country, GMA-9 is the group of groundwater conservation districts that manage the Trinity Aquifers. Currently, one of GMA-9’s tasks is to reach consensus on a revised DFC for the Trinity Aquifers.
The WVWA submitted comments to the Chair and member GCDs of GMA-9 to encourage needed changes to the DFC. We look forward to continuing the dialog, so science can further inform and sharpen policy.
June 30, 2021
Representatives of the Districts of Groundwater Management Area 9:
On behalf of more than 19,000 members of the Wimberley Valley Watershed Association, thank you for the opportunity to offer public comments toward Desired Future Conditions for Groundwater Management Area 9 joint planning, as provided by the Texas Water Development Board. WVWA may be headquartered in and primarily focused on the Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District in GMA 9, but our sphere of consideration includes a 31-county region that touches GMAs 7–13. We are keenly aware of the interrelated nature of water supply in Texas and advancing scientific understanding of groundwater and surface water interaction. The socioeconomic importance of water management is central to our state’s and GMA 9’s future. We believe a greater sense of urgency is needed to preserve groundwater for future generations.
WVWA Submitted Comments (pdf)Groundwater Conservation Districts must consider a number of aquifer uses and conditions under Texas Water Code. Water supply needs and hydrological conditions are paramount, and so are environmental impacts that include spring flow and other groundwater and surface water interactions. Private property rights and socioeconomic impacts are equally valid. Finally, DFC feasibility and “any other relevant information” by law must be considered. Toward that end, please consider these entirely relevant comments in your joint planning decisions.
To begin, the Trinity Aquifer is distinctly different among its Upper, Middle, and Lower Trinity divisions. Desired Future Conditions should be distinguished separately and monitored accordingly. As it stands, the Desired Future Condition for the Trinity Aquifer currently stated as an “increase in average drawdown of approximately 30 feet through 2060” does not adequately protect availability of groundwater in GMA 9.
Groundwater levels over the decade that this standard, a greater than doubling of the Modeled Available Groundwater, have shown an unacceptable decline. Moreover, Census 2020 will arrive too late to be included in planning, and observable population growth makes clear our projections need to be updated. New groundwater modeling is on the way. In the meantime, GMA districts should take a more conservative view and reduce drawdown to 0 to 4 feet until new data and upgraded modeling can be incorporated.
The argument by some that modeled available groundwater represents an unalterable commitment to that level or more fails on modeling for conservation. When wells fall to historic lows in mild drought conditions, models deserve scrutiny to ensure that groundwater does indeed remain available, as intended. Specific local measures and additional DFCs related to spring flows can further address disparity in groundwater drawdowns across districts. Overall groundwater system health cannot be reduced to a single average drawdown number. Spring flow is directly observable and superior to use as a drought trigger to protect groundwater resources.
To support these improvements, GMA 9 districts should develop and support the necessary science to establish and expand regional groundwater management zones for the critical areas that recharge springs and feed our vitally important creeks and rivers. Already, the Blanco River Aquifer Assessment Tool has been funded and will in a year or two provide our best model yet of the complicated groundwater and surface water interactions in the Trinity Aquifer. GMA 9 should account for obvious stresses on the groundwater system until the BRAAT is completed. Monitoring should be increased to better identify and track these stresses. Only the lack of severe drought since 2016 has tempered an already noticeable downtrend in median aquifer health.
Mining the aquifer according to outdated DFCs is unsustainable. Reasonable steps to reduce pumping and preserve access to groundwater for essential use exist and are widely available. Rainwater harvesting can completely replace more traditional water supply and fill any gap created by a reduction in the MAG. Graywater reuse and subsurface drip irrigation—as demonstrated in the construction and operation of Wimberley ISD’s Blue Hole Primary School—combine with rainwater and AC condensate to create a One Water system that reduces groundwater use by up to 90% compared to a nearly identical school in the district. Conservation of groundwater is a readily viable alternative to increased pumping and aquifer depletion. In some areas, aquifer storage and recovery, and even direct potable reuse offer further options. GCDs should actively support research and implementation of alternatives to fresh groundwater.
WVWA respectfully calls on the districts of GMA 9 to follow the science and monitoring, and discontinue an unsustainable status quo. The time is now to reconsider hydrological conditions and the adverse environmental impacts of current DFCs. Local districts should localize DFCs based on spring flow and interactions between groundwater and surface water. GMA 9 may be comparatively small geographically, but the diversity of its predominant Trinity Aquifer means that a single solution from Kerrville to Kyle creates disparities that threaten imminent socioeconomic hardship. Development continues apace with limited guidance by cities and counties. The burden lies on GMA 9’s districts to be creative in sustaining aquifer health. GMA 9 should make room for more fine-grained modeling and corresponding local management.
WVWA has been entrusted by our loyal supporters since 1996 to protect and preserve the quality and quantity of water in the Blanco River and Cypress Creek. From Jacob’s Well to Blue Hole to the Great Springs of Texas, we understand that groundwater means all water. The time has come for GMA 9 likewise to preserve and protect our groundwater. We must all use less and reuse more, and earnestly seek sustainable alternatives. WVWA has long been a partner with GCDs in that effort and through these supportive comments hopes to strengthen and deepen that relationship in GMA 9 and across Texas.
Executive Director, WVWA
Advancing One Water in Texas
By Rachel Cardone and Carol Howe
If I were asked to share a photo that captured the heart and spirit of Texas, it would be the image of Jacob’s Well in Wimberley, in the Hill Country near Austin. Texas summer days are filled with the gasps and laughter of children as they cannonball into cold, refreshing spring-fed swimming holes like Jacob’s Well, San Solomon Springs, or Barton Springs.
The Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation envisions a future where both Texans and the beautiful natural resources (that we depend on) thrive. The foundation’s water program aims to ensure ample, healthy waters above and below ground to support the rich, diverse ecosystems throughout Texas.
The future of these Texas icons is in jeopardy as population growth and climate change stretches thin our precious water resources and complicates water management during our famous weather extremes. The current water management paradigm in Texas does not adequately promote sustainable water management or, quite frankly, place a priority on sustaining the needs of our environment.
These challenges, however, are not unique to Texas. Across the United States and throughout the world, community leaders, water planners, and policymakers are wrestling with how best to manage water to maximize economic and social welfare equitably without compromising the sustainability of vital ecosystems. Leaders in sustainable solutions are rethinking our traditional urban water management practices, working to advance a more resilient strategy called integrated water management or “One Water.”
The concept of coordinated development and management of water, land, and related resources is not new although related policies and practices in Texas and across our nation are severely out of sync. Clear leadership is needed to drive a paradigm shift.
The Mitchell Foundation commissioned this report to learn how advocates can cultivate a viable model in Texas. Advancing One Water in Texas attempts to characterize and demystify One Water, identify drivers and challenges to its path forward, and provide clear recommendations for advancing One Water in our state.
So, what is One Water, and importantly, what is not One Water?
Simply, One Water promotes the management of all water within a specific geography—e.g., drinking water, wastewater, stormwater, greywater—as a single resource, a resource that must be managed holistically, viably, and sustainably. While this report details the many dimensions of One Water and its inherent difference from the traditional management approach, there are a few significant observations to highlight:
ADVANCING ONE WATER IN TEXAS
Collaboration is the essential building block. Under the current system of water management, within any given community, different streams of water are compartmentalized, managed in almost complete isolation from one another. Collaboration across these silos is a critical ingredient, and an absolute necessity, if decision are to be made that are truly in the best interest of the community and water resources. These practices, however, don’t come easily. Collaboration, often times between disparate audiences, requires committed leadership, common sense, political capital, a diversity of participants and institutions, as well as the right supporting tools and techniques.
This report characterizes One Water, describes the influencers of this water management shift, and outlines emerging challenges and opportunities. It also provides three “areas for action”: (1) promoting good policy, (2) building across silos (or breaking them down), and (3) mainstreaming successful pilots and demonstrations.
The Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation is committed to supporting Texas’s transition to One Water and sustaining our state’s water resources. With an eye on the future, we hope that this report will serve as a means of informing change-makers and fueling actionable solutions in securing and managing our waters for generations to come.
Meadows Center, Wimberley Library District Announce Partnership, Plan For ‘One Water’ In Library Renovation
August 5, 2020
WIMBERLEY, TEXAS – The Meadows Center for Water and the Environment at Texas State University and the Wimberley Village Library District Board of Trustees have teamed up to launch a new One Water project for the Wimberley Valley community.
With technical support from the Meadows Center, the planned 15,000-square-foot library expansion and a 3.8-acre lot will be designed for both water conservation and water quality protection while serving as a community laboratory and educational resource for natural resource protection.
“The Wimberley Village Library community – trustees, staff, Friends, and Foundation – welcomes and enthusiastically embraces this opportunity to put into practice the essential principles of the One Water approach to design and construction,” said Dell Hood, President Board of Trustees for the Wimberley Village Library District. “We look forward to providing a center for information and programs to further knowledge and understanding of the critical role of water resources in western Hays County.”
Plans to expand the library began due to the area’s growing population and the Wimberley community’s increasing use of its services. Since it was formed in 1976, the Wimberley Village Library has been enlarged three times as a result of increasing demand for services.
The planned expansion will provide more space for children and young adult programs and activities as well as provide additional no-cost meeting spaces for the community. The library also envisions adding to their educational focus with information on water conservation while demonstrating best practices.
“The Wimberley Valley is setting the pace for sustainability in the Texas Hill Country,” said Nick Dornak, Director of Watershed Services for the Meadows Center. “We could not be more excited to partner with the Wimberley Village Library community on this keystone One Water project.”
One Water is a water planning and management approach that rethinks how water moves through and is used in a community; it brings stakeholders like developers, community leaders, urban planners, water managers, and engineers together with the goal of utilizing water as thoughtfully and efficiently as possible.
The library’s One Water renovation supports the continued implementation of the Cypress Creek Watershed Protection Plan with best management practices anticipated to include rainwater harvesting, HVAC condensate collection, and green stormwater infrastructures like permeable pavers, xeriscape and rain gardens.
“By adopting and implementing One Water for the Wimberley Library, we hope to set a new standard of care and water conservation for our community,” said Patrick Cox, Trustee for Wimberley Village Library District Board of Trustees. “We are adopting the One Water strategic management approach for the library that emphasizes stewardship and is sustainable. In partnership with the Meadows Center, we will have a model One Water system for the education of everyone in our community and we are dedicated to protecting our water as our most vital natural resource – for us and for future generations.”
The Meadows Center for Water and the Environment at Texas State University was named following a generous gift from The Meadows Foundation in August 2012.
One Water is defined by the Water Research Foundation (WRF) as an integrated planning and implementation approach to managing finite water resources for long-term resilience and reliability, meeting both community and ecosystem needs. It is the emerging term in the United States for what is commonly known as integrated urban water management. Given Central Texas’ population growth and limited water resources, One Water principles are becoming more and more viable options to extend and protect water supplies.
Wimberley ISD’s New Blue Hole Primary Campus, the First One Water School in Texas.
Wimberley ISD’s New Blue Hole Primary Campus, the First One Water School in Texas.
Using innovative one-water concepts to minimize water use and optimize onsite reuse, Wimberley Independent School District’s newest campus—Blue Hole Primary—was designed and constructed with strong support from the Wimberley Valley Watershed Association, Texas State’s Meadows Center for Water and the Environment, and the community. One Water is an intentionally integrated approach to water that promotes the management of all water—drinking water, wastewater, stormwater, graywater—as a single resource. Blue Hole Primary serves the growing Hill Country communities of Wimberley and Woodcreek with one of the most water efficient and cost-effective approaches ever envisioned for a school campus in Texas.
The campus has 200,000 gallons of storage to hold rainwater collected from 78,000 square feet of roof and 600 to 1,300 gallons/day of AC condensate. An advanced reuse system distributes the captured rainwater and condensate to flush toilets and provide irrigation for landscaping. On-site treatment and reuse system allow gray and black water produced by the school to be beneficially reused through a subsurface drip irrigation system for a high-quality turf field.
Green stormwater infrastructure slows down runoff, decreases erosion, helps infiltration, and reduces nonpoint source pollution. Bioswales, rain gardens and walkways with permeable pavers are incorporated throughout the campus.
Blue Hole Primary’s unique campus reduces its water consumption footprint (if compared to conventional approaches) by approximately 90 percent through implementation of these one water strategies. Annual cost savings relative to standard construction and centralized water/wastewater service is expected to be between $29,000 and $48,000 per year. Total cost savings over 30 years to exceed $1,000,000 in 2018 dollars. Conservation of 237 acre-feet of groundwater over 30 years.
Groundwater from the drought-prone Trinity Aquifer provides flow to Jacob’s Well and Cypress Creek and is the sole source of drinking water for the community. Blue Hole Primary’s one water approach minimizes reliance on this stressed supply. Design and construction plans are being used to develop case studies for implementation of the holistic One Water concept and have already inspired additional projects within the region.
Ensuring One Water Delivers for Healthy Waterways: A Framework for Incorporating Healthy Waterways into One Water Plans and Projects
Jennifer Walker, Myron Hess, Carrie Thompson, Sarah Diringer
Texas Living Water Collaboration
Texas Living Water Collaboration
The One Water approach offers tremendous opportunities for improving how water is managed within communities. Using water efficiently and taking advantage of diverse, locally available water supplies are important goals. It is also important that the approach support communities in assessing how their water use affects the health of waterways, both upstream, where water is sourced, and downstream, where other communities and aquatic resources may be impacted.
Local water capture and reuse technologies are some of the most successful innovations featured in One Water plans and projects. However, they may also pose an inadvertent threat to river flows as maximum use of these sources can starve natural systems of needed flows and
potentially reduce water available to communities downstream. To realize the full potential of the One Water approach, planners should explicitly acknowledge and quantitatively assess potential threats to healthy waterways, and incorporate actions to protect (and where possible, enhance) river flows downstream for the benefit of people and the environment.
Building on our initial 2019 report on One Water planning and healthy waterways considerations, this report presents a planning framework to assist communities in implementing the One Water approach in a way that optimizes water supplies to cities and keeps water flowing for the creeks, rivers, and bays that support healthy fish, wildlife, and their habitats.
April 22, 2021
April 22, 2021
AUSTIN, TX - Austin City Council approved Austin Water’s new Onsite Water Reuse System Pilot Incentive Program. Identified as a key strategy in the Water Forward Integrated Water Resource Plan, this program will incentivize developments that incorporate systems to collect, treat, and reuse rainwater, stormwater, graywater, foundation drainage, air conditioning condensate, or blackwater for non-potable purposes onsite. Capturing and reusing these alternative sources of water will help offset drinking water demand as Austin’s population continues to grow and extend core water supplies from the Colorado River and Highland Lakes facing impacts from climate change.
To demonstrate how these innovative systems work, Austin Water commissioned a pilot project at the City of Austin’s recently completed Permitting and Development Center to showcase sustainable water management practices to the development community. Educational signage describes how these innovative water reuse systems, known as OSCAR (On-Site Collection and Reuse) and CLARA (Closed-Loop Advanced Reclaimed Assembly), are used in the building. OSCAR and
CLARA are anticipated to save the City of Austin almost 1.5 million gallons of drinking water annually, and to reduce the site’s potable water use by 75 percent. A recent recipient of the Texas chapter of the American Water Works Association Conservation and Reuse Award, this first-of-its-kind project in Texas will provide performance data to inform future development projects and encourage efforts to capture and reuse water onsite for non-drinking water needs.
Developers seeking to voluntarily incorporate Onsite Water Reuse Systems are encouraged to submit proposals for funding. Incentives are available for projects that meet one of the following criteria:
For more information and to download the pilot incentive program application, please visit Austin Water’s website: http://www.austintexas.gov/department/onsite-water-reuse-systems.
Adoption of the 2022 State Water Plan
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July 7, 2021
Every five years, the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) is required by Texas Water Code §16.051(a) to adopt a comprehensive state water plan that incorporates the approved regional water plans. The state water plan is to
The 2022 State Water Plan must be adopted no later than January 5, 2022 and will be the fifth state water plan developed through the regional water
planning process as mandated by Senate Bill 1 in 1997 and Texas’ eleventh state water plan developed since 1957.
At the end of each five-year regional water planning cycle, the Executive Administrator compiles information from the Board-approved regional water plans and other sources to develop the state water plan, which is published for public comment and, after consideration of public comments, adopted by the Board. Once adopted, the state water plan is submitted to the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives, and the appropriate legislative committees.
In addition to incorporating the approved regional water plans, the state water plan, as formally adopted by the Board, serves as: a guide to state water policy; includes legislative recommendations that the Board believes are needed and desired to facilitate more voluntary water transfers; and, identifies river and stream segments of unique ecological value and sites of unique value for the construction of reservoirs that the Board recommends for protection.
Texas Tech Heads Collaboration to Study Impact, Technology Necessary for Recycling of Produced Water
By George Watson
July 8, 2021
July 8, 2021
The Texas Produced Water Consortium will bring together industry, stakeholders and university expertise to grow understanding, formulate research and collaborate on options for produced water use and management in Texas.
freshwater footprint in the state of Texas. The report also will include a plan for an economic and technological pilot program for a statewide facility designed to recycle produced water.
In addition to consortium members, the Texas Produced Water Consortium will consist of a stakeholder advisory council and a government agency advisory council. The stakeholder advisory council will include memberAs one of the leading agricultural research institutions in the U.S., Texas Tech University will serve as the administrator for the newly created Texas Produced Water Consortium, a collaborative effort to explore options, alternatives and potential economic impacts for the billions of gallons of produced water in Texas each year.
Produced water is water trapped in underground formations brought to the surface during oil and gas exploration and production. It also is known as brine, saltwater or formation water. Each year, oil and gas exploration generates more than 800 billion gallons of produced water – 6% of the full storage capacity of all water supply reservoirs in Texas.
The consortium, introduced to the Texas Legislature by state Sen. Charles Perry and signed by Gov. Greg Abbott in June, will bring together diverse stakeholders, experts and key information resources to study the economic impact of and technology needed to reuse produced water, including environmental and public health considerations.
"As chairman of the Senate Committee on Water, Agriculture and Rural Affairs, it has been a mission of mine to find new water resources for Texans, and specifically, our rural and agriculture communities,” Perry said. “Water is a finite resource, and produced water has the potential to inject millions of acre-feet into an area of the state that exists in persistent drought. I have confidence that through a robust stakeholder process, Texas Tech can navigate these new waters and develop one or more pilot projects to lead the nation in innovation.”
The primary challenge presented by produced water is its high salt content. Options to use this water for alternative purposes beyond oil and gas operations have been neither fully understood nor capitalized upon. More importantly, alternative uses for produced water could provide significant water resources in drought-stricken areas and those relying on diminishing water resources like the Ogallala Aquifer.
“Texas Tech has long recognized the importance of water resources for sustaining economic growth and sensitive ecosystems of the Southern High Plains,” said Joseph A. Heppert, vice president for research and innovation at Texas Tech. “Here in West Texas, we are experiencing firsthand the increasing demands on our nation's water supply. We are developing technologies that will provide potable water to rural communities, and we are working with community stakeholders in the adoption of those practices and technologies.”
government agency advisory council. The stakeholder advisory council will include member representatives from the oil and gas industry, agricultural water users, industrial water users, environmental interests, public water utilities, landowners, groundwater owners and commercial water recyclers and midstream companies.
The consortium will be responsible for producing a report that will outline a model for the economical and efficient use of produced water that does not harm the public or environment and will lead to greater use, reducing the representatives from the oil and gas industry, agricultural water users, industrial water users, environmental interests, public water utilities, landowners, groundwater owners and commercial water recyclers and midstream companies.
The government agency advisory council will include members from the Texas Railroad Commission, the State Energy Conservation Office, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the Texas Economic Development & Tourism Department, the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, the Texas Department of Agriculture and the Texas Water Development Board.
Texas Tech will appoint members to a technical and economic steering committee that will provide expertise and determine the direction of future research to be funded by the consortium.
“Texas Tech has the expertise and infrastructure to facilitate the development of the Texas Produced Water Consortium,” said Lawrence Schovanec, Texas Tech president. “We look forward to the opportunity to bring together and facilitate roundtable discussions between state agencies, industry and municipalities on the feasibility and potential challenges of converting produced water to potable water.”
Texas Tech will be responsible for providing staff and resources so the consortium can carry out its duties. It also will consult with the New Mexico Produced Water Research Consortium and its governmental advisory board on research, data and other related matters while also coordinating with other members of state university systems and agencies to provide necessary resources.
Once the report is produced, the consortium may continue to study the economic, environmental and public health considerations of the benefits of produced water and the technology needed to render it safe for broader use.
Texas Policymakers Continue Focus on Produced Water Beneficial Reuse
By Lisa Montgomery Shelton & Lydia González Gromatzky February 14, 2020
Posted in: NATURAL RESOURCES, OIL & GAS, POLICY, WASTE, WATER
February 14, 2020
Posted in: NATURAL RESOURCES, OIL & GAS, POLICY, WASTE, WATER
February 14, 2020
On January 22, 2020, the Texas Senate Committees on Natural Resources and Economic Development and Water and Rural Affairs (Senate Committees) held a joint hearing to consider Lt. Governor Dan Patrick’s 2019 interim legislative charge related to one of the most pressing matters facing the state—future water supply issues. This interim charge requires that these legislative committees make recommendations to promote the state’s water supply, including the development of new sources. The recommendations made will be the subject of consideration when the Texas Legislature reconvenes in 2021 and will inform future legislative initiatives. While a broad range of water supply topics was discussed during the hearing, notably, the subject of produced water, including opportunities for reuse within and outside the oil field, continues to be a focal point under review by state policymakers.
The Senate Committees received testimony with respect to the reuse of produced water by oil and gas producers on state lands. Specifically, representatives of the General Land Office, the agency that manages state lands in various parts of the state, and University Lands, the land and mineral management organization that manages the surface and mineral interests of 2.1 million acres of land in West Texas, provided testimony regarding produced water management options currently used on state lands. It was noted that, while disposal of produced water in disposal wells continues to be a viable option for produced water, the reuse of produced water in the oil field is on the rise. The witnesses also identified the following trends: (i) there has been significant growth in the water midstream sector; (ii) larger companies are becoming more prevalent; and (iii) more capital appears to be available for investment in water midstream companies.
With regard to produced water management generally including reuse outside the oil field, representatives of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) and Railroad Commission (RRC) provided testimony. A RRC representative reported that a significant percentage of produced water is currently being beneficially reused in some manner. Challenges to growth in beneficial reuse were identified as those related to the need for: (i) treatment technologies for produced water to take into account that not all produced water may be the same; (ii) the reliability of treatment methods to be met particularly where volumes and characteristics of produced water may be subject to change over time; and (iii) the acquisition and development of infrastructure
(e.g., land, impoundments, pipelines). Tackling those challenges should pave the way for additional growth in beneficial reuse. TCEQ representatives noted that, while EPA’s Draft Study of Oil and Gas Extraction Wastewater Management under the Clean Water Act includes a review of whether potential future federal regulations may allow for broader discharge of treated produced water to surface waters, this study has not yet been finalized, and EPA has not yet adopted any recommendations for regulatory action. It was also noted that some stakeholders support a reconsideration of existing regulatory barriers to surface water discharge east of the 98th Meridian. TCEQ representatives noted that, in any case, discharges to surface water authorized by TCEQ would be expected to meet applicable surface water quality standards.
With significant inter-agency collaboration among the TCEQ, the RRC and EPA, steady progress has been made with respect to implementation of House Bill (HB) 2771, adopted during the past legislative session relating to the authority of the TCEQ to issue permits for the surface water discharge of produced water. TCEQ currently expects that its application to EPA for National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) delegation of oil and gas wastewater discharges (including produced water) will be submitted before the September 1, 2021, deadline set forth in HB 2771. Two rulemaking proceedings to implement this legislative measure are currently underway. The first, which is in the proposal stage and open for public comment until February 11, 2020, would adopt, by reference, two relevant federal effluent limitation guidelines: the oil and gas extraction point source category (40 CFR Part 435) and the centralized waste treatment category (40 CFR Part 437).[i] The second, which was approved for proposal on February 12, 2019, with an anticipated public comment period ending March 30, 2020, would include proposed changes to the Memorandum of Understanding between the RRC and the TCEQ regarding the transfer of responsibility for oil and gas discharges (including produced water) from the RRC to the TCEQ upon EPA delegation of the federal NPDES permitting program for such discharges.[ii] Once fully implemented, HB 2771 would simplify the permitting process such that only one permit would need to be obtained from TCEQ rather than from both the RRC and EPA. Opportunities for stakeholder input on HB 2771 implementation are available through the HB 2771 stakeholder group established by TCEQ. For additional information, see TCEQ’s website.
By Lisa Dreher
April 16, 2021
April 16, 2021
A bill in the Texas legislature that would give county governments more authority to protect water sources in the Hill Country has not made it past the committee hurdle.
House Bill 3883, authored by State Rep. Kyle Biedermann, failed to secure enough votes to pass the Land & Resource Management Committee which voted 5-4 against the bill.
Biedermann, who represents Comal as well as Kendall and Gillespie in the Texas House, and his staff are working in committee substitutes to amend the bill and pass a different version that is more “agreeable” by the committee, his office said on Thursday.
If it was to pass there, it would go to the House Calendars Committee to determine its priority on and then to the House floor.
The bill would allow commissioners courts to regulate and manage developments that would affect groundwater sourcing. The court would have the power to make developments provide a primary and secondary source of water, with proponents saying the region already struggles to secure water from local wells and systems.
It would apply to nine counties within the Hill Country’s unincorporated areas — those outside the boundaries of cities, and would include parts of Comal, Hays, Bexar and Travis County and all of Gillespie, Kerr, Blanco, Bandera and Kendall County.
Comal County property owner and retired geologist Jack Olivier was unsure if the bill will pass, but said it had been needed for decades and called it critical to protecting water for Hill Country homes.
“If we don’t do it now, when will we do it?”
HOW IT'S MANAGED
Properties typically get water from groundwater sources, which is held underground in the soil or pores and crevices in rock. This water is usually hidden in aquifers, permeable rocks and sediments and is extracted with wells.
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality designates “Priority Groundwater Management Areas” and it has designated nine counties, including Comal, as the Hill Country Priority Groundwater Management Area. Those are often divided into Groundwater Conservation Districts. The Comal County area has the Comal Trinity Groundwater Conservation District, which manages and protects the Trinity Aquifer from being overdrawn.
Many properties have their own domestic wells, primarily from the Edwards and Trinity aquifers, Olivier said.
Many subdivisions in central Comal County get their water managed by the Canyon Lake Water Corporation. This water is sourced from both the Trinity Aquifer and surface water from the Canyon Lake Reservoir.
Many of those properties have their own domestic wells, but the shallow zone of the Trinity is currently being depleted, so property will have to re-drill their wells to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars, Olivier said.
While some of those properties are located near the Edwards Aquifer, water can’t be drawn from it since it is a recharge zone and “it’s going in” and not being taken out.
“My water is mostly Trinity Aquifer, I’m in the same boat as these private landowners,” Olivier said. “There are too many people using too much water, including swimming pools. It’s also becoming increasingly industrial usage. People continue to add new wells, place bigger demands, deplete everybody’s ability to get water.”
Supporters of Biedermann’s bill said allowing commissioners courts to manage these districts and regulate developers would give the court “tools” to manage water protection, such as setting reasonable lot sizes and minimum frontage restrictions (to prevent high-density development), require adequate water supply prior to subdivision development and establish infrastructure cost recovery fees paid by developers.
“HB 3883 would go a long way to fix that problem by making available a method for the county commissioners in the nine counties in the Hill Country Protective Groundwater Management Areas to obtain appropriate local controls to manage growth,” Olivier said.
The nonprofit, alongside residents of Comal County and Kendall County testified before the committee earlier this month in favor of the bill.
Kendall County Commissioner Richard W. Elkins said this will provide necessary development rules while allowing new economic development.
Olivier testified before the legislative committee supporting the bill with Stop 3009 Vulcan Quarry.
He said it would allow residents to protect their water by having their commissioners speak for those who know the area and the residents better than someone in Austin.
The one opponent who testified against the bill was M. Scott Norman, Jr., the executive director of the Texas Association of Builders.
He told the committee he understands the issue of water depletion in Hill Country and how it affects where houses are built, but said this bill would lead to property owners encouraging the commissioners courts to regulate to keep out future development.
“There are some counties, and I’m sure some county leadership have said this, would allow those of the ‘haves’ of their place in the country or their place in the county to close the gate behind them and stop growth,” Norman said.
He said this regulation would turn away developers and the people who could buy more affordable property in that area, he said.
Stop 3009 Vulcan Quarry, an environmental nonprofit of made up of geologists, lawyers and community organizers trying to stop a quarry from being built over the Edwards Aquifer, is one of the supporters of the bill.
“Unincorporated areas are the only place you can find affordably-priced housing and this legislation is drafted, if there was a vote in that county, I think some would vote to keep their piece of the pie and keep newcomers out,” Norman said.
Biedermann, who has spoken with Norman about the bill, said this was not the case.
“We can’t just come through and say we’re trying to keep people out,” Biedermann said. “The ‘have and have nots,’ that’s really not the truth.”
He said it does not affect the buffer areas just outside city limits for municipalities to define potential growth and future service boundaries.
He said high density could be anywhere in the cities or counties, but the bill is to protect water resources.
“It comes down to build all we can and then around the water say ‘Whoops, we made a mistake,” Biedermann said. “Or are we going to look together and make sure the builders when they’re building a house for people, that they can make sure those people have water for, could be even five years, 10 years.”
Norman said his association and himself want to look at changes that would protect the water supply, but said he remained worried about expanded powers for counties to regulate development.
Biedermann asked Norman if builders negotiate with the county about areas they would be impacting.
Norman said they support giving counties the ability to negotiate with these builders entailing water, sewer, infrastructure requirements and water and drainage regulations.
“But again, targeted authority, not broad sweeping [authority],” Norman said.
He said the state is growing and his association is against anything that would raise the price of housing, such as needing to build on bigger lots.
Biedermann said the groundwater management areas were created 30 years ago specifically to protect the water.
“We’re talking about one small area,” Biedermann said. “They foresaw that this was a very fragile area. I would think that the homebuilding association would be wanting to take that into consideration and not just be open building.”
As New Braunfels continues to grow, residents in Hill Country such as Terry Olson are hoping these regulations would protect their water from further over pumping.
“I’ve lived in Hill Country since 1989,” Olson told the H-Z. “I’ve seen the explosion of growth and understand the fluctuations of water on resources in the area. I understand needs for neighborhoods to grow affordable housing, but what I don’t agree with is irresponsible growth.”
Olson testified before the committee and said the issue is not about affordability if the bill passes, since property will already not be affordable if it has constant water issues.
She said her neighbors’ 650-foot well cannot pump water to keep up with demand in the summer — even though they do not water their grass.
During the freeze, Olson’s home had difficulty extracting water at all, she said.
Besides Comal County residents, individuals and organizations from Kendall County also support the bill, including the county’s commissioners.
The county did a survey with about 96.4% Kendall County responses in favor.
Comal County Judge Sherman Krause said he was notified of the bill but has not had the chance to look over it thoroughly yet.
“For many years now, counties have been talking about keeping up with development and providing roadways and other infrastructures to service those areas being developed,” Krause said. “Certainly at times, we’re suffering from drought conditions right now, and in one of those times where we’re behind on rainfall compared to the average that we usually get.”
Olivier said he supports the bill, since areas in Hill Country are not tightly regulated like the cities, and hopes their water can be protected from excessive development.
“We have record growth,” Olivier said. “Mostly in unincorporated areas, it’s called the ‘wild, wild west.’ The development is pretty much uncontrolled at the moment.”
May 27, 2020
It’s not uncommon to see plastic rain barrels sitting next to homes waiting for the next rainfall to send water flowing into a downspout. Collecting and storing rainwater can provide water for a variety of residential uses, lower your water bill, and reduce demand on both surface and groundwater supplies. As a general rule of thumb, for every inch of rain that falls on a 2,000-square-foot roof, about 1,000 gallons of water can be collected.
Much of the growth in rainwater harvesting in Texas over the last few decades has been in small-scale, residential rainwater harvesting systems. For large-scale water supply needs, Texas businesses and institutions have traditionally relied primarily on centralized water distribution systems that haven’t included large-scale rainwater catchment techniques.
But as the state continues to grow at a rapid pace and demand on our surface and groundwater supplies increases, the role that rainwater harvesting can play in commercial- and community-scale projects and facilities is evolving statewide. Across Texas, schools, libraries, businesses, and utilities are implementing innovative rainwater harvesting methods to divert and store water from the sky on a big scale.
From Austin to Amarillo, building planners are taking into account water conservation when designing new facilities. The Austin Central Library garnered national attention for its rainwater capture, condensate reuse, and reclaimed water strategies. The library collects rainwater and the water dripping off of air conditioning equipment and uses that water for flushing toilets and urinals inside.
“The rainwater/condensate collection and reuse provide an approximately 85 percent offset of potable water use,” said Lee Butler, the building services manager at the library. “So, 85 percent of the water we use is for flushing toilets and irrigation. We only use potable [water] for sinks, water fountains, ice machines, and the café.”
Fifty miles southwest of Austin, construction crews are working on an innovative primary school campus that will incorporate “One Water” strategies. The Wimberley ISD campus will use 90 percent less water than a typical school of its size. Campus construction plans include rainwater and HVAC condensate collection, together with wastewater treatment and reuse.
According to a Wimberley ISD press release, “the design for the school acknowledges the importance of protecting Jacob’s Well, Blue Hole, and the Trinity Aquifer by reducing groundwater consumption by 90 percent of what a traditional school this size would use.”
While most large-scale rainwater harvesting systems utilize a large above-ground tank, FirstBank Southwest Amarillo decided to look
downward. At the Western Banking Center in Amarillo, the parking lot is the water collection system. Permeable pavers allow water to flow through gravel backfill and into a perforated pipe that carries water to an underground tank.
FirstBank Southwest President and CEO Andy Marshall said the innovative system allows nature to provide water resources and demonstrates the bank’s commitment to doing the right thing. “We felt that our place in the Texas Panhandle and the many communities we serve made designing and creating a sustainable water source an economic and ecological imperative,” he stated.
Rainwater harvesting has found a place in government policy as well. The State of Texas has long promoted the use of rainwater harvesting to conserve water. Texas Tax Code allows for a state sales tax exemption on rainwater harvesting equipment, and Texas Property Code prevents a homeowner’s association from prohibiting the use of rainwater harvesting systems.
Utilities are also implementing programs to encourage the use of rainwater harvesting systems because these systems can decrease the demand on a utility’s water supply. Rainwater harvesting systems also impact stormwater flow because water that would traditionally flow into stormwater drains is collected on-site. Utilities promote rainwater harvesting at residential, commercial, industrial, and educational facilities through incentives such as discounts for rain barrels or rebates for water storage tanks.
The New Braunfels Utilities offers a rebate of $0.50 per gallon of storage toward the purchase of barrels or cisterns for a maximum rebate of $250, as a credit on customers’ accounts. In nearby San Antonio, the San Antonio Water System’s RainSaver Umbrella Program also offers rain barrel and cistern rebates, as well as tips on building rain gardens and coupons for rain barrels.
TEXAS RAIN CATCHER AWARDS
The Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) has supported the implementation of rainwater harvesting systems in many ways, including through the release of The Texas Manual on Rainwater Harvesting in 2005. In 2007, the TWDB established the Texas Rain Catcher Award, a competition open to all individuals, companies, organizations, municipalities, and other local and state governmental entities in Texas. The award recognizes entities and individuals in the rainwater harvesting community and beyond and establishes award recipients as dedicated water conservation leaders in Texas.
The annual application deadline is June 30. For more information about rainwater harvesting, visit the TWDB website.
The Meadows Center for Water and the Environment, Texas State University: Regulatory Impediments to Implementing One Water in Texas
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Texas Water Development Board: Water Reuse
Texas Water Development Board: The Texas Manual on Rainwater Harvesting
Texas Laws And Regulations: Comprehensive Guide to Rainwater Harvesting, Graywater Reuse, and Auxiliary Water Rules